Blair alum Niki Applebaum ’01 took the reins of the college counseling office this summer, bringing extensive experience on both sides of the college admission process. Earlier in her career, she served as an admissions officer and territory manager for Stanford University, as well as a senior admissions officer and assistant director of financial aid at Harvard University. Most recently, Ms. Applebaum was the co-director of college counseling at the Baldwin School, an independent school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Along with her knowledge of college admissions, Ms. Applebaum has also taught and coached at boarding schools. Get to know more about the new dean of college counseling below.
Q. Being a graduate of Blair Academy, what are you looking forward to most as you return to campus to start your tenure as a faculty member?
A. Over the years since I graduated, I have realized just how important the education I received at Blair has been. Yes, I knew that Blair fostered my intellectual growth, sparking for the first time an interest in learning that wasn’t tied to performance on a test or to memorizing material. I realized through classes taught by Blair faculty that I loved to explore ideas, connect concepts and change my own opinions by being challenged by others. What I didn’t realize as a student was the depth of my education outside the classroom. Blair faculty supported me as I grew from my mistakes and developed my values and integrity through moments shared in the theatre, in the dorm, on the field and under the Arch. I can’t wait to join the Blair faculty in that second capacity: connecting with students to help them grow not just as learners but as people with a strong sense of self and respect for the world and humanity around them.
365体育官方网址Q. With extensive experience working in both independent schools and colleges, how has your experience prepared you to take on the role of dean of college counseling at Blair?
A. Teaching writing as an English teacher, reading applications as an admissions committee member, calculating aid awards as a financial aid officer, and helping students build balanced lists while guiding them to craft compelling applications all play a part in the preparation. However, I think the experience that emboldens me to embrace this role most fully is the work I did in founding and leading the Harvard First Generation Program, a program designed both to encourage first-generation students to apply to colleges (including Harvard, if it were the right fit) and then to support first-generation students who matriculated to Harvard. Developing this program taught me so many valuable lessons: how to evaluate institutional practices to design and implement improvements; how to listen to past and current students’ experiences to foster greater inclusivity in the community; how to recognize and utilize the talents of my staff members to yield the best results while pushing them to grow; and, perhaps, most importantly, how to be vulnerable to learn from my own weaknesses and to acknowledge my own faults and failures. As a first-generation college student myself, my identity felt woven to the program, and I wanted it to best support all the students it aimed to serve; as a Blair graduate, my identity already feels woven to this School, and I similarly want our office to best support all of the Blair students we serve.
Q. What are some of the most important things college counselors can do to help students find the right fit in a college or university?
A. The college process doesn’t start abruptly during junior year when a student has her first meeting with her counselor; rather the college process is a time to take stock of all the student has done and continues to do during her high school years. For me, the most important aspect of helping a student find his or her “fit” is to ask questions about the choices he or she has made along the way, as it encourages reflection about what is important to the student. Answering these questions and describing experiences can help students recognize patterns in their choices and likes/dislikes that may not have been obvious in the day-to-day moments. Developing a sense of which decisions, activities, experiences and lessons brought the student the most joy is paramount; with that knowledge, students, counselors and families together can find the places that will support the continuation of those joys and that trajectory. The name of a school on a bumper sticker may invoke momentary pride, but the experiences of four years at the right place will invoke a lifetime of happiness.
365体育官方网址Q. As an experienced dancer and previous student-choreographer of musicals at Brown University and Blair, do you have any plans to continue to share your talents with students?
A. I may have something up my sleeve—you’ll have to wait and see! In all seriousness, while I am not currently slated to work officially with musical theatre or dance at Blair, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for opportunities to weave dance into my life in any way as a faculty member, just as I did as a student. For me, dance isn’t a discrete activity you do to build toward a dance recital or a musical number; instead, dance can deepen your understanding of the world, breathing life into the experiences of reading literature, of honoring cultural traditions, of studying history. My Blair teachers always encouraged me to bring my passion for dance into my studies in truly interdisciplinary ways: I used interpretive movement to analyze an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem in Mr. Parauda’s English 3H class; I completed cultural research on the history of Flamenco and took Flamenco dance classes for Señora Wenner’s ([Senior Associate Dean of Admission] Mr. [Teddy] Wenner 96’s mom!) AP Spanish class; and I choreographed a ballet piece for a project on the tenets of the Romantic era for Dr. Miller’s AP European history class. And I still bring lessons I learned through dance into my life and my work every day: the creativity developed through choreography fuels my writing, the discipline learned in ballet drives my work ethic, and the joy of finding a shared passion deepens my desire to forge connections with others.
365体育官方网址Q. As a former faculty member at Peddie, you have experience on both sides of the Blair-Peddie rivalry. How does it feel to be back on the Bucs’ side?
365体育官方网址A. I’m so relieved to be back on the right side of things; during my time at Peddie, I never quite acclimated to calling it “Blair Day!” Conflicted loyalties tore me apart each November when I was coaching there, as I cheered loudly for my field hockey players and simultaneously hoped the other contests weren’t going as well for the Falcons...I suppose, in reality, I always got to “win”—no matter who brought home the Kelley-Potter Cup. But chanting the “Ala Viva” never felt as good as huddling with the Blair field hockey team as we built to the crescendo of our “We are the Bucs, oh yeah” or joining the chorus of “Peddie Socks” at the pep rally during [Blair English teacher] Mr. Evans’ stories. (Does Mr. Evans still do that?) Experiencing the school spirit spark across campus, seeing teams sprint their hardest, and feeling the energy vibrating in the dining hall the morning of the competitions is special indeed, whether you are at Blair or Peddie. It’s part of what makes each place feel like a family and a home. We’re all lucky to have this cherished tradition!
365体育官方网址Q. What advice do you have for seniors who may be worried about the college application process during the coronavirus pandemic?
A. In the spring, as students shared their anxiety about canceled testing, curtailed activities and interrupted courses, I kept telling them that all seniors across the country, indeed, across the globe, were in the same position. The advice I thought would be most helpful was to tell students that they are not alone in this experience, and they wouldn’t be at a disadvantage because of it. As we’ve lived through more of these months of this “new normal,” that advice still stands, but my own thinking has shifted to trying to acknowledge the silver linings—the advantages even—of having lived through this period, whether those are in the form of new lessons learned, new connections made, new hobbies and interests developed, or new perspectives adopted. So, seniors, you have this advantage: In a process that oftentimes requires you to be flexible in exploring different paths, to move forward after disappointing news, and to wait for what can feel like an eternity to know what the next school year will hold, you’ve honed those abilities already. You’re prepared to tackle these challenges, and Blair college counseling is by your side, albeit six feet away!